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Builder jailed for contempt after failing to delete menacing social media posts

A judge has issued a warrant for the immediate arrest and jailing of a builder for contempt over his failure to comply with a court order requiring him to remove scurrilous comments published about the Queensland Building and Construction Commission (QBCC) and its staff from four popular social media sites.

Brisbane District Court Judge Ian Dearden on Friday 13 August ordered that a warrant be issued for the arrest of Marinus Hendrikus van Uden and that he be taken into custody and sent to jail to serve three months in custody for two acts of contempt of court.

On 11 June 2021, Judge Dearden found van Uden guilty of two offences of contempt, but adjourned the matter before imposing penalty.

The court was told the charges were levelled after a war of words erupted and scandalous accusations were made by van Uden when a complaint was made about him to the QBCC on September 27 2019, in regard to defective carpentry work.

During a subsequent inspection of van Uden’s work at a Sunshine Coast property, he became aggressive to the QBCC staff and later sent telephone text messages asserting the inspector was a “dirty bastard’’ and “a liar and corrupt”.

Judge Dearden said that between September 2019 and February 2020 van Uden sent objectional correspondence to QBCC staff asserting they were engaged in “corruption activities” and of his intention to make the allegations public -– including the publication of the names and photographs of two officers – by releasing details to “newspapers and journalists”.

“On or around 18 January 2020, vituperative (or bitter and abusive) statements about the QBCC … (and two staff members) began appearing on social media accounts across four different platforms,” he said.

The judge said the statements were all contained on a page entitled ‘QBCC Corruption’ on the commission’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube accounts.

Judge Dearden said: “The posts were inflammatory and voluminous, with copies spanning some 277 pages.”

“Most concerningly, the posts contain a photo of [a staff member] that was taken during Mr van Uden’s meeting with her, and that in a menacing way was sent by Mr van Uden to her on 24 January 2020.

“Against this background, there could never be any doubt that the posts were made by Mr van Uden.”

As a result, QBCC commenced proceedings on 19 June 2020 seeking to restrain van Uden from continuing to publish the impugned statements. That proceeding, together with an application for an interlocutory injunction was served on van Uden personally on 24 June 2020 at 18 Amaroo Place, Cooroibah, which was the his principal place of business recorded with QBCC.

The application for interlocutory relief was listed for hearing on 7 July 2020, and on 6 July 2020 the solicitors for QBCC forwarded a copy of the QBCC’s outline of argument to the associate for District Court Judge Deborah Richards, which prompted a response from van Uden, sent to one of the QBCC solicitors, which contained similar statements to those made in the social media posts (including statements to the effect that the QBCC were corrupt, that the QBCC were engaged in a conspiracy, and that there are corrupt unaccredited building inspectors working for the QBCC).

Van Uden failed to appear in court on 7 July 2020, and in his absence Judge Richards granted an interlocutory injunction restraining the publication of certain social media posts by the defendant and requiring him to remove the posts.

Van Uden failed to comply with the orders made by Judge Richards and did not file a defence in the proceeding.

On 26 August 2020, District Court Judge Ken Barlow QC entered judgment in default for QBCC and made orders which, in summary, required Mr van Uden to take all reasonable steps within his power to disable certain social media accounts or pages and also remove certain statements about the QBCC and its employees published on them.

Judge Barlow also permanently restrained van Uden from publishing, or causing, encouraging, requesting or enabling to be published, by any means whatsoever, certain statements about the QBCC and its officers, agents and employees without prior leave of the court.

Almost 12 months on, resolution of the matter landed on Judge Dearden to deliver sentence and impose the appropriate penalty for van Unden’s ongoing contempt of earlier court orders.

“The [QBCC] notes that given that [van Uden] has chosen not to engage with the [court] proceeding in any way, there is no relevant evidence as to character or antecedents in respect of [van Unden],” Judge Dearden said.

“The [QBCC] submits that given the failure to purge the contempt by [van Uden], specific deterrence is required both to punish [him] for the contempt and also to coerce compliance with the orders of the court.

“In all of the circumstances, I conclude that it is appropriate to impose a sentence of three months’ imprisonment (concurrent) in respect of each of Charges 1 and 2, suspended after one month, provided that [van Uden] purges his contempt by removing the relevant posts and deleting the relevant social media accounts, in accordance with the relevant orders of [Judge] Barlow QC.

“In my view it is appropriate to order indemnity costs, given the public interest as well as the private interest in these proceedings, and the fact that the application need not be brought other than for the conduct of the respondent/defendant, who has failed to engage with or respond to these proceedings in any meaningful way.”

Read Judge Dearden’s first decision.

Read Judge Dearden’s second decision.

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